Katelin Snyder is the new voice commanding U.S. rowing’s dynasty

Katelin Snyder
Benoit Cortet

In her debut as a coxswain, Katelin Snyder crashed the boat into a dock.

“The hull cracked in two places,” she said. “Our boat man couldn’t fix the boat. They had to send it back to Vespoli [a manufacturer] to get repaired.”

That was high school. Snyder then went to college, to the University of Washington’s storied rowing program, where she set a precedent.

“At school, we did swim lessons in the lake,” she said. “It was like a 52-degree lake. And I’m from Florida. It got cold, and my limbs stopped moving, and I started to sink. So my coach freaked out, and he made all the coxswains wear life jackets in the boat because of that.”

“The oar is a flotation device, but the coxswain doesn’t have an oar,” Snyder jokingly pointed out.

Snyder is now the coxswain of the dynastic U.S. women’s eight, which seeks a third straight Olympic gold medal and 11th straight global title next year.

And her teammates, who traditionally throw the 5-foot-4, 110-pound coxswain into the water after major victories, have the utmost confidence that she won’t sink.

“She’s kind of a natural when she gets into the race,” U.S. coach Tom Terhaar said. “She has a very good feel for who is where, what they’re doing, where her boat is going and how much more they’re capable of. She’s very good at reading a race.”

In Olympic-level rowing, choosing athletes to fill each boat can be complicated. There are rowing machine tests, qualifying regattas and selection camps. Even an athlete’s weight can make a difference in certain events.

In 2010, a different, head-to-head competition took place for the most visible place on the U.S. rowing team — coxswain of the women’s eight.

The coxswain need not lift a finger during a 2,000-meter, six-minute race but is the vocal leader, shouting commands from the stern to the eight rowers powering the boat.

The U.S. earned one rowing gold medal overall at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, in the women’s eight, which had also captured World Championships in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

By 2010, the U.S. women’s eight was already a dynasty.

Mary Whipple, also of the University of Washington, was the coxswain of the U.S. women’s eight every year from 2001 through 2008 as it surged from sixth at the Sydney Games to best in the world over two Olympic cycles.

Whipple, as many Olympians do, decided to take one year off after the 2008 Games. She wanted to earn her master’s in intercollegiate athletic leadership from Washington.

Snyder filled the role in her absence.

Snyder, so unknown that her first name was misspelled in official race results, nonetheless kept the streak in tact by coxing the U.S. to the 2009 World Championship.

In 2010, Whipple returned with her degree and eyes on reclaiming her seat. Snyder was not ready to give it up.

Whipple and Snyder split practice time ahead of the 2010 World Championships to be held in late October and early November. Finally, a decision had to be made.

“It’s the worst,” Whipple said. “The coxswain selection is always the last.”

The women’s eight rowers, past and future teammates of Whipple and Snyder, would vote for one coxswain.

“[Terhaar] had everybody write on a piece of paper, he collected them, and then we went for a run,” Whipple said. “It was the longest 30-minute run ever.”

Whipple and Snyder came to rest on a bench and waited for Terhaar to call each for individual meetings.

Snyder went first, met with Terhaar, and then walked out and passed Whipple.

“Her head was down,” Whipple remembered.

Terhaar then summoned Whipple, who learned moments later that the seat was hers again.

“It wasn’t easy, and [the vote] was close because we knew both of them are excellent,” Terhaar said. “There was an older generation that had known Mary and had that full confidence. Mary was older and a little bit more mature at the time.”

Snyder was devastated.

“My dream was ruined,” said Snyder, seven years younger than Whipple and then 23 years old. “I just remember feeling like, well, if I don’t make this I’m not going to make 2011. I’m not going to make 2012.”

Two months later, Snyder’s younger brother Jake died of cancer at age 21. The rest of the family, including another brother and sister, had fleurs-de-lis tattooed on their right fingers as Jake was an Eagle Scout.

“I think it was pretty bold to have a hand tattoo, but it’s really special,” said Snyder, whose blue tattoo covers most of the area between the knuckles on her right ring finger. “I love that I can see it all the time, and it constantly reminds me of him.”

By spring 2011, Snyder knew that Whipple was on her way to becoming the 2012 Olympic team coxswain, but it was also assumed that London would be Whipple’s final Games.

Snyder pondered her future and decided she didn’t have many marketable skills outside of the sport. Stick with rowing.

So, Snyder took an assistant coaching job at Loyola Marymount to at least fill the gap through the Olympics. She also wanted to mature not only as a coxswain but to also more firmly grasp the sport.

She moved from the U.S. rowing training base at Princeton, N.J., to Los Angeles.

“The best way for me to learn, to be a student of the sport, would be to coach,” she said. “I think it would have been really hard for me to watch the Olympics with excitement if I had been just kind of waiting for it to be over. I think I made the right call. But it was a tough pill to swallow for sure.”

She coached for two years and returned to the U.S. national team in 2013, reclaiming her seat following Whipple’s retirement.

The U.S. women’s eight captured three more World titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015 with Snyder — running the dynasty to 10 years, including a world-record time of 5:54.16 in 2013 — and is a favorite for gold in Rio.

Snyder was joined on the women’s eight at Worlds this year by seven rowers with no Olympic experience plus one London 2012 Olympian, Meghan Musnicki, who can compare Snyder and Whipple.

“They’re very different, but at the same time both very similar in the level of confidence that I have in their ability,” Musnicki said. “I always joke that we could do it without [Snyder], but we definitely couldn’t. I mean, I could dock the boat without her. She has terrible eyesight.”

Snyder is best defined by her voice. She gargles salt water and does neck stretches to stay loose for yelling commands to her boat.

Musnicki joked that Snyder could lead the boat without the customary headset microphone used by coxswains.

“We have two different styles,” Whipple said of Snyder. “Mine is more laid-back and softer. Hers is full-on, let’s get to the line, and I’m going to use my voice and demand it.”

It’s an attitude born of Snyder’s experiences coxing male boats at Winter Park High School in central Florida and at the University of Washington.

Going into high school, Snyder had broken her right leg twice playing soccer and was searching for a new sport. She mentioned rowing to her parents, who said they didn’t think she could handle it. Snyder was sold.

She took an oar for two years with the girls’ team at Winter Park. She wasn’t getting taller or gaining weight, so Snyder became a prime candidate to switch to coxswain as a junior. And the boys’ team needed one. So she signed up.

“I actually really hated it at first,” she said. “They’re high school boys. It’s like the worst time.”

The boys gave her a nickname almost immediately — “Mojo Killer.”

“The very first time I ever coxed a boat, I ran it into the dock,” Snyder confessed. “The boat was called the Mojo, so I was called the Mojo Killer. I cried and cried and cried, the nickname stuck, and eventually I had to own it. I kept going.”

Snyder gained the boys’ respect and was part of a national championship boat in her senior year. She thought that could have been the end of her rowing career.

“I actually didn’t get recruited anywhere for college,” she said. “I didn’t get a single email back. I took one official visit because I really begged the coach to have me, and I had to, like, pay for the visit and everything, and then I didn’t even get into the school!”

Yet Snyder ended up coxing at the University of Washington, one of the most accomplished rowing programs in the country. A Washington men’s eight crew won gold at the Berlin 1936 Olympics, and their story became the 2013 best-selling book, “The Boys in the Boat.”

One of Snyder’s teammates was recruited to Washington and, before enrolling, called Huskies coach Michael Callahan to recommend Snyder.

“She wanted to come and cox the guys’ team,” Callahan said. “We just fell in love with her spirit. Super articulate, tons of energy. She’s probably the Mary Lou Retton of rowing.

“She could command guys. She could grab guys’ respect really easily. She wants to win. She’s a competitor.”

Women coxing men’s boats is not that unusual at the highest college level. Washington’s current men’s rowing roster includes three coxswains, two of which are women.

In 2006, Snyder earned a new nickname on the university’s freshman men’s team — “Kane-Oh.”

“I thought high school boys were bad; this was another level,” Snyder said. “To get them to listen to me, I just had to yell really loud a lot of the time. So they called me the volcano woman, because I got really mad.”

Snyder directed the freshmen to a national title in 2006 and then moved up to the varsity eight, again winning national titles as a sophomore and senior.

“One person said she’s John McEnroe mixed with June Cleaver,” Callahan joked. “She’s a sweet girl, and then when she gets competitive, she’s a force to be reckoned with to be sure.”

Snyder was a freshman in a hotel hallway when she first met Whipple, who recommended Snyder try out for the junior national team.

“I didn’t even know I could try out for the national team,” Snyder said. “[Whipple] really helped me get my foot in the door, and she’s been a really incredible mentor.”

In Rio, Snyder can actually extend one streak and create another. She hopes to lead the U.S. women’s eight to an 11th straight global title. If she does that, she’ll keep the Olympic gold-medal coxswain club in the University of Washington family, joining Whipple and 1984 Olympic coxswain Betsy Beard.

When Snyder was cut from the national team in 2010, she looked up and asked Terhaar if he thought she would ever make the Olympics.

“He said, ‘Yeah, you can definitely make it one day,'” Snyder said. “But I didn’t feel that.”

Whipple, who e-mails with Snyder, recently visited the coxswain and the women’s eight while training in New Jersey. She slapped a new nickname on her successor — badass.

“She now knows the big picture,” Whipple said. “She’s completely grown in to be the natural true leader that I think she was frustrated with before. She’s experienced now, and I think leading collegiate women as a coach, she realized, wow, I need to rise above this and actually be the badass that she is.”

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Faith Kipyegon breaks second world record in eight days; three WRs fall in Paris


Kenyan Faith Kipyegon broke her second world record in as many Fridays as three world records fell at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Kipyegon, a 29-year-old mom, followed her 1500m record from last week by running the fastest 5000m in history.

She clocked 14 minutes, 5.20 seconds, pulling away from now former world record holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who ran 14:07.94 for the third-fastest time in history. Gidey’s world record was 14:06.62.

“When I saw that it was a world record, I was so surprised,” Kipyegon said, according to meet organizers. “The world record was not my plan. I just ran after Gidey.”

Kipyegon, a two-time Olympic 1500m champion, ran her first 5000m in eight years. In the 1500m, her primary event, she broke an eight-year-old world record at the last Diamond League meet in Italy last Friday.

Kipyegon said she will have to talk with her team to decide if she will add the 5000m to her slate for August’s world championships in Budapest.

Next year in the 1500m, she can bid to become the second person to win the same individual Olympic track and field event three times (joining Usain Bolt). After that, she has said she may move up to the 5000m full-time en route to the marathon.

Kipyegon is the first woman to break world records in both the 1500m and the 5000m since Italian Paola Pigni, who reset them in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m over a nine-month stretch in 1969 and 1970.

Full Paris meet results are here. The Diamond League moves to Oslo next Thursday, live on Peacock.

Also Friday, Ethiopian Lamecha Girma broke the men’s 3000m steeplechase world record by 1.52 seconds, running 7:52.11. Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen set the previous record in 2004. Girma is the Olympic and world silver medalist.

Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway ran the fastest two-mile race in history, clocking 7:54.10. Kenyan Daniel Komen previously had the fastest time of 7:58.61 from 1997 in an event that’s not on the Olympic program and is rarely contested at top meets. Ingebrigtsen, 22, is sixth-fastest in history in the mile and eighth-fastest in the 1500m.

Olympic and world silver medalist Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic won the 400m in 49.12 seconds, chasing down Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who ran her first serious flat 400m in four years. McLaughlin-Levrone clocked a personal best 49.71 seconds, a time that would have earned bronze at last year’s world championships.

“I’m really happy with the season opener, PR, obviously things to clean up,” said McLaughlin-Levrone, who went out faster than world record pace through 150 meters. “My coach wanted me to take it out and see how I felt. I can’t complain with that first 200m.”

And the end of the race?

“Not enough racing,” she said. “Obviously, after a few races, you kind of get the feel for that lactic acid. So, first race, I knew it was to be expected.”

McLaughlin-Levrone is expected to race the flat 400m at July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where the top three are in line to make the world team in the individual 400m. She also has a bye into August’s worlds in the 400m hurdles and is expected to announce after USATF Outdoors which race she will contest at worlds.

Noah Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 100m in 9.97 seconds into a headwind. Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy was seventh in 10.21 in his first 100m since August after struggling through health issues since the Tokyo Games.

Lyles wants to race both the 100m and the 200m at August’s worlds. He has a bye into the 200m. The top three at USATF Outdoors join reigning world champion Fred Kerley on the world championships team. Lyles is the fifth-fastest American in the 100m this year, not counting Kerley, who is undefeated in three meets at 100m in 2023.

Olympic and world silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson won the 800m in 1:55.77, a British record. American Athing Mu, the Olympic and world champion with a personal best of 1:55.04, is expected to make her season debut later this month.

World champion Grant Holloway won the 110m hurdles in 12.98 seconds, becoming the first man to break 13 seconds this year. Holloway has the world’s four best times in 2023.

American Valarie Allman won the discus over Czech Sandra Perkovic in a meeting of the last two Olympic champions. Allman threw 69.04 meters and has the world’s 12 best throws this year.

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek plays 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova in the women’s singles final, live Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

Swiatek can become the third woman since 2000 to win three French Opens after Serena Williams and Justine Henin and, at 22, the youngest woman to win four total majors since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Muchova upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian all tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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